Top-tier First Folio Theatre is reviving its very first 2008 P. G. Wodehouse adaptation of the famed duo Bertie and Jeeves they ever produced: Jeeves Intervenes. Margaret Raether’s adaptation captures Wodehouse’s dry British wit and sarcasm with aplomb. Directed by Michael Golberg, who has been with First Folio Theatre for 14 years, does a phenomenal job choreographing the movement of the actors on stage in this production. The cast ensemble is stellar and works seamlessly together. They are all strong professionals who engage the audience with their quick repartee and physicality while drawing us into their comedic chaos, deception, antics, and conflict.
Christian Gray, a Chicago favorite actor, is very experienced in playing Bertie Wooster. He is thoroughly convincing as the affable playboy who has no intention of becoming a husband. Jeeves portrayed by Christopher John Grella is a master valet whose dialogue is precise and movements meticulous. He is Bertie’s unflappable problem-solving valet whose loyalty to his bumbling employer is both astounding and admirable. Bertie and Jeeves are an iconic duo that reminds one of Sherlock Holmes and Watson or Batman and Robin.
Jill Shellabarger, another veteran Chicago actor, is very convincing as Aunt Agatha, a fiery force to be reckoned with. She is determined that Bertie, her nephew, marry and produce progeny so she takes matters into her own hands sometimes forcibly. Nick Sandys as Eustace, Bertie’s hapless school chum, is a marvel to watch on stage with his exaggerated pratfalls and knack for extreme physical comedy. Lydia Berger Gray married to Christian Gray is Aunt Agatha’s choice for Bertie to marry. Lydia is lovely to watch and has a very commanding stage presence as Gertrude, Bertie’s intended. Ron Keaton deftly plays the part of Sir Rupert a wealthy retired Scottish Military man and Eustace’s financial benefactor. He threatens to cut him off and send him off to manage a jute factory in India because he rightly accesses him as indigent. Keaton is a Renaissance man who has spent more than forty-five years as an actor. His credits also include playwright-director, producer, and songster. His bluster and bombastic delivery belie his sensitive romantic interests in Aunt Agatha. His performance is inch-perfect.
When entering the Mayslake Hall Theater I was delighted to hear the ragtime piano chords and other genres of music apropos to the 1920s. Brandon Reed through his sound design certainly evokes the time period while enhancing the performances. The stage set really caught my eye. It is stunning. Scenic Designer Angela Weber Miller designed a sophisticated, gorgeous, elegant, art deco, London flat that works so well to accommodate the story with a setback dining area and left and right wings housing unseen bedchambers. Wendy Ann’s prop design was spot-on. The costume design suited the story. Gertrude’s flapper attire and her headdress were luminous. Sir Rupert’s traditional Tartan Kilt spoke to his heritage and a celebratory occasion. Costume design is credited to the pseudonym, George Spelvin. Michael McNamara did a marvelous job with the stage lighting. I wanted to reach out and grasp one of those shining martini glasses at one point. Opening night for Jeeves Intervenes had the sold-out audience bellowing out loud with laughter and a few unexpected, surprising, raucous snorts.
I suggest you arrive early enough to take a tour of Mayslake Peabody Estate’s interior architecture and art displays. This Tudor mansion is a treasure trove rich with Chicago history. In 1993, the Dupage Forest Preserve purchased the 87 acres including Mayslake Hall, Portiuncula Chapel, surrounding lakes, and an oak savanna making it accessible to the general public. Francis Stuyvesant Peabody, a national leader in the Democratic Political Party and captain in the coal industry commissioned famed Chicago architect, Benjamin Marshall, to build this magnificent summer retreat in 1919. It was named after his first wife and daughter, Mayslake Peabody Estate. Unfortunately, a year after its completion in 1921 Peabody died of a heart attack during a fox hunt on the property. The 840-acre property was later sold to the Franciscan Province of the Sacred Heart order of Friars Minor in 1926.
The theater seats 127 patrons with ample leg room so you need not twist side to side or be forced to stand for other guests arriving in your row. The usher and Executive Artistic Director David Rice were so hospitable and gracious in assisting guests with walking challenges to their seats. I was so impressed by their care. This is First Folio Theatre’s 26th year and final season for the seven-time Joseph Jefferson Award winner. They are going out with a bang hosting four shows Jeeves Intervenes, Little Women, And Neither Have I Wings To Fly, and Twelfth Night.
Unlimited Free parking is available. Running time is 2 hours with one intermission. Captioned Performances for the Deaf and Hearing Impaired are Friday 11/18 at 8:00 p.m. and Saturday 11/26 at 4:00 p.m. Proof of full vaccination against COVID-19 (2 shots of Moderna/Pfizer/Novavax or 1 shot of J&J) is required to attend any performance. There will be no exceptions allowed to this policy. Jeeves Intervenes runs until December 4, 2022. There are Captioned Performances for the Deaf and Hearing Impaired on Friday 11/18 at 8:00 pm and Saturday 11/26 at 4:00 pm. Single Ticket prices are Friday-Sunday Adults $59.00, Seniors $54.00 Students (All performances $20.00 and Preview $29.00). Wednesday-Thursday Adults $49.00, Seniors $44.00. Season subscriptions and individual tickets are on sale now and may be purchased by calling the box office at 630.986.8067 or online at www.firstfolio.org.
Photos: Courtesy of Heron Agency